From a former Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent, an exuberant memoir of life, love, and transformation on the frontlines of conflicts around the world
Growing up in 1970s Detroit, Lynda Schuster felt certain life was happening elsewhere. And as soon as she graduated from high school, she set out to find it.
Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is Schuster’s story of her life abroad as a foreign correspondent in war-torn countries, and, later, as the wife of a U.S. Ambassador. It chronicles her time working on a kibbutz in Israel, reporting on uprisings in Central America and a financial crisis in Mexico, dodging rocket fire in Lebanon, and grieving the loss of her first husband, a fellow reporter, who was killed only ten months after their wedding.
But even after her second marriage, to a U.S. diplomat, all the black-tie parties and personal staff and genteel “Ambassatrix School” grooming in the world could not protect her from the violence of war.
Equal parts gripping and charming, Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is a story about one woman’s quest for self-discovery—only to find herself, unexpectedly, more or less back where she started: wiser, saner, more resolved. And with all her limbs intact.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Melville House (July 18, 2017)
I do love a good memoir, especially one where the author has a fascinating job and life. For me, that's often a chef or someone in the food industry, but give me a strong female, a journalist--in this case a war correspondent who has covered interesting political and historical events--and I am equally happy, especially when the writing is as engaging and often humorous as Lynda Schuster's storytelling is In Dirty Wars and Polished Silver.
Watching foreign corespondents on the television news, or reading their articles in newspapers and magazines, I am often impressed with their courage and in awe of their drive to witness and deliver stories that people need to see and hear. Lynda Schuster covered stories for the Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor from Central America in the early 1980s to The Middle East and Southern Africa in the mid- to late 1980s, before marrying a diplomat and future U.S. Ambassador stationed to Mozambique and then Peru. She writes about all of her experiences with both heart and humor--from the death of her first husband (a fellow correspondent) in Honduras, to learning the duties of being an ambassador's spouse at "Ambassatrix School." I ate up the historical bits (I admit to being more familiar with some of the history and events than others) just as much as the personal and family drama she shares, and the book's 350-ish pages flew by, leaving me satisfied but still wanting more. Schuster had me laughing at her snark, tearing up with horrific stories of the people and countries ravaged by war--along with her personal grief, and then had me holding my breath at some of the dangerous incidents and moments that she was a part of.
Dirty Wars and Polished Silver is entertaining, illuminating, and interesting. If you are fascinated by travel, history, politics, and world events, but you don't fancy leaving the comfort of your home for a life of dive-bombing cockroaches (oh wait, we get those here sometimes--especially after hard rains), crawling tarantulas, and malarial mosquitoes, or the challenges of stockpiling rations for rebellions and impending wars, or even making cocktail party conversations with bigoted political leaders, you can still learn something while living vicariously through Schuster in the pages of this well-written book.
(Don't forget to check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post for your chance to win a copy.)
Author Notes: Lynda Schuster is a former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor, who has reported from Central and South America, Mexico, the Middle East, and Africa. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Utne Reader, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine, among other. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and daughter.
You can connect with Lynda on her website or Facebook.
There is a fair amount of food and food inspiration from across the globe in Dirty Wars and Polished Silver. There were mentions of apple orchards on the Israeli kibbutz that Schuster worked on in high school, along with chicken, potatoes and cabbages, hard boiled eggs, sorbets and slushies, mashed tuna salad, knishes, scrambled eggs, eclairs, coffee and tea. There was mention of beer, iced coffees, papayas, steaks, snapper and Chilean wine, Chinese food, latkas, fried plantain chips, coconuts, hamburgers and fries, lasagna, brandy and whiskey, carob and chocolate, beer and margaritas. There was a garden full of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, herbs, limes, lemons and other produce, boiled sweet potato, nsima (maize mush), peanut butter and cheese sandwiches, gefilte fish, popcorn, chocolate ice cream, tilapia, carrot cake with pineapple, coconut, and cream cheese frosting, dried fish and peppers, yogurt, long-life milk, pasta, canned tuna, flour, rice, cantaloupes, frozen bagels and cream cheese, bananas, pawpaws, pineapples, cassava root, skewered meats, canapes, fish stew, quiches, casseroles, brownies and cookies.
For my book-inspired dish, I took my inspiration from a line Schuster wrote about her editors taking her out of the craziness of war-torn Beruit, "When you're in the midst of war, it's hard to remember there are places in the world where people are buying bagels with two shmears and looking at lingerie catalogs." Even in the midst of personal tragedy or a country's or region's strife, the world is moving on normally for someone else.
Bagels came up a few times in the book and the two shmears caught in my head. Although the bagels in Hawaii are nothing to write home about when compared to New York or even Portland or Seattle, I get bagel cravings sometimes and will grab a passable few from Safeway if I can't get to the most decent bagel place on Oahu. My favorite bagel is pumpernickel, but they never have them at Safeway. Still, with a good shmear or cream cheese spread, I can be happy with sesame, poppy seed, or an "Everything" bagel.
I knew I wanted a smoked salmon or smoked fish shmear and I had some canned smoked trout from Trader Joe's that I usually use in salads or pastas. I kept it simple--a bit of fresh dill and green onion for color and flavor, capers of course, and a touch of lemon juice/zest, and a little smoked paprika and cayenne. For this one I used a plain, whipped cream cheese.
For my second shmear, I looked online for inspiration and saw a Harissa-Mint shmear in an article on 11 easy ways to liven up cream cheese for a shmear. Since I had an open tube of Harissa paste in the fridge and it sounded good, I thought it would be a good nod to Africa (although harissa is a North African spice paste and Schuster spent time in South and East and West Africa). I changed the recipe up a bit--making it with labne--thickened yogurt cheese and adding lemon and garlic to round out the flavor.
Smoked Trout Shmear
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
8 oz whipped cream cheese, room temperature or thickened yogurt or labne
about 4 oz smoked trout or other smoked fish (I used Trader Joe's canned)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp chopped green onions
1 Tbsp capers, drained
lemon zest from 1 lemon and 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne, or to taste
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
In a small bowl, gently stir smoked trout (plus about 2 tsp of any liquid if using canned smoked fish), dill, green onions, capers, lemon zest and juice, smoked paprika, and cayenne into the softened cream cheese until it is thoroughly mixed. Taste and add sea salt, pepper, and more cayenne to taste.
Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two before serving to allow flavors to meld.
Harissa and Mint Smear
Inspired by The Kitchn
8 oz labne, thickened yogurt cheese or cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp Harissa paste, or to taste
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp roasted garlic powder (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
In a small bowl, stir harissa paste, lemon juice, garlic powder (if using) and mint into softened labne. Taste and season with sea salt to taste. Allow to chill and flavors to set for an hour or so in fridge before serving.
Notes/Results: Both smears were really good. I knew I would like the simple smoked trout one because there is little I like more on a bagel than smoked fish and capers. You could use smoked salmon or any smoked fish for this one of course and omit the dill if you aren't a fan, but I thought it was pretty perfect as is--a nice blend of smoky, briny, salty, bright and savory. The Harissa-Mint shmear was a surprise--I really enjoyed the slow heat and slight burn in the back of the throat of the harissa, that's cooled by the mint and the yogurt cheese. I used 2 scant tablespoons of the Harissa paste which worked well for my palate--slightly spicy but not too much. I think this one will be good on veggie wraps and maybe even as a salad dressing--thinned down. I also could see topping a baked or roasted potatoes with it too. I liked the saltier taste of the labne/yogurt cheese fin it. Of course you can use whatever you like--dairy or non-dairy plain yogurt or cream cheese and it will be good. I will happily make either of these again.
And I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
And I am linking these bagel sandwiches up to Souper Sundays, here at Kahakai Kitchen--where every Sunday, we feature soups, salads, and sandwiches from across the blogosphere. You can find the details for joining in here-on this week's post.
Note: A review copy of "Dirty Wars and Polished Silver" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.
The publisher is generously providing a copy of Dirty Wars and Polished Silver to give away (U.S. & Canada addresses only, sorry) here at Kahakai Kitchen.
To enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway below, leave a comment (Because I like to read them!) ;-) telling me what your dream job or career is or telling me why you'd like to win a copy of "Dirty Wars and Polished Silver."
There are a couple of other optional ways to get more entries to win: 1) Tweet about this giveaway or 2) follow me on Twitter (@DebinHawaii) and/or Publisher Melville House (@melvillehouse) and/or follow Lynda Schuster on Facebook. (Note: You can still get extra entries even if you already follow these accounts.)
Deadline for entry is midnight (EST) on Friday, Sept. 29th.
a Rafflecopter giveaway